Unai Emery reviews in an interview his 16 years as a coach. The man from San Sebastian recounts his experiences in Spain, Russia, France and England, awaiting a new project.
Unai Emery (Hondarribia, Guipúzcoa, 3-11-1971) has given an interview since his confinement in Valencia, to review his 16 years as a coach.
The de-escalation has begun. How is the transition to the new normality considered?
We have to continue to be prudent and respectful with COVID-19, because this has not ended, continue to abide by what the health authorities and the Government tell us, who are the ones who have to give us the answers. Activity in all economic sectors must return as soon as possible, but always within the framework of health.
And what about soccer?
We have to keep the unique message that the season must end, try to be fair to everyone and meet the economic aspects that are so necessary for the football industry to continue.
Do you think the steps LaLiga is taking, with the approval of the CSD, in the return to training and its forecast of the resumption of competitions seem right?
Yes, and it also seems to me that they are doing well in terms of planning, strictly speaking the issue of protocols. Both here and in the European competitions and in the rest of the European leagues, except France, which has become unmarked …
You have trained there. Were you surprised by the decision to end the various French competitions, proclaiming champions, promotions and descents?
From the outside, the first impression I have is that there should have been unity, and yet they were unmarked. I find positive the line that Spain, England, Italy and Germany take, as the main European leagues, in terms of looking for solutions, within the protocols and slogans of the health authorities, to try to end the season.
“Cristiano or Messi are still on the cusp of soccer, but for me Neymar is the main candidate for the throne of the best player in the world”
How do you envision football when 2021 begins?
Playing with the public. I hope there will be a vaccine, a treatment, so that it will return to normal in matches and stadiums and we will enjoy the football atmosphere again.
He was asked about Mbappé: Do you think he has the capacity to mark an era in Madrid like Di Stéfano or Cristiano?; Would you advise him to go play in the League or the Premier?
Of course he has the ability to mark an era in Madrid. Advise which league to play in? When I was in France I loved that he was there because I enjoyed it; When I went to England, I would have liked him to play in the Premier and if I return to Spain, I want him to be here.
You know him well. How closely do you feel or have you felt about Real Madrid?
Look, surely there will be things from PSG that fill you up and maybe some will not, and there may be Real Madrid. We are lucky to have and export the two best teams in the world, which are Real Madrid and Barcelona, and I would like them to continue having the best players in the world.
Do you think Mbappé will be the next Ballon d’Or winner?; And do you think that PSG will win the Champions League?
I do not know if it will be the Mbappé the next Ballon d’Or winner, he certainly has the age, abilities and talent to reach that level, but I do not dare to affirm it so categorically. And the PSG champion of Europe? Of course it can be. I have been fortunate to train the team for two years and in one we were closer to passing eighths, but the moment was not in our favor. There they have the idea that they want to do something important in the Champions League and one day they will be crowned European champion. In addition, it has a president who is very intelligent and you have very clear ideas for PSG. I, to coaches who could have the possibility of going there, I have recommended it, because it is a great club. I would like a Spanish coach to go there and succeed.
“Dani Ceballos is a player who has excellent qualities and an incredible mentality: he wants to succeed”
Would you claim that the next occupant to the throne of the best player in the world is going to be Neymar or will you pass?
It is true that Cristiano or Messi are still at the top of football, but for me Neymar is the main candidate to be.
You were instrumental in convincing Ceballos to go to Arsenal. Why did it fit into your project ?; And do you see him triumphing in Madrid?
Both questions are answered because Dani is a player who has excellent qualities and an incredible mentality: he wants to succeed. For Arsenal it was a great market opportunity. He played with me, then he was injured and he was out for a long time, he recovered and now, when the competitions resume, he will surely demonstrate his qualities again.
You took Jesé to PSG, but since then he has lived a carousel of transfers and it seems that he does not raise his head. Has a star been left on the way?
It is true that he had a very good projection, due to the circumstances they were, he stopped, but he is still in time to demonstrate his full potential, and I would like it, because he is a great kid and he has to take advantage because football ends quickly.
Of the players you have managed in the foreign teams in which you have been, how many have you met with a level to play in Spain?
Many. Of the Spartak in Moscow I could say the left-hander Dmitri Kombarov, international for Russia and Arsenal and PSG practically all.
“Jesé had a very good projection and, due to the circumstances, he stopped, but he is still in time to demonstrate his full potential”
In Almería you had a player named Cruxat who was a bullet. Have you trained any faster afterwards?
It is true that it was very fast and gave a great performance in Almería both in Second and First. But faster than him? … Of course they are up to it, I do not know if more, Mbappé, Neymar and Aubameyang.
After training for PSG, Arsenal and in Spain for Seville and Valencia, will your next step in the League be Atlético?
You are where they want you. Now I reside in Valencia for being with my son, but I registered in Madrid. I don’t know where my next project will be, I am open to everything. What is clear is that Atlético has Simeone, who would have to be on the team until he wants to, or his whole life, because there is no one who fits like him.
Would you change the three years that you were third with Valencia for having lifted a title as you did in Seville with three Europa League in a row?
When I was at Valencia, the goal was to be third above all else. It is true that if you get a title you get more to the hearts of the fans, but in my last one we played the Europa League semifinals and the Copa del Rey semifinals, although it is true that I would have liked to have given the fans a final, which then I did get with Sevilla.
Would you ever train Betis?
I’m a professional. My heart has always been with Real Sociedad, where I was for 10 years, but if Athletic ever called me …; I’ve been to Valencia, but if Levante called me …; I have been to Sevilla, but if Betis called me … Wherever they want me and I feel recognized, I will be there, and that will be what matters.
“Train Betis? I am a professional. Where I am loved and I feel recognized, I will be there”
You have always been a specialist in the game of set pieces. How is the VAR influencing the planning and use of these situations in defense and attack?
I have always attached great importance to working on the strategy since my beginnings as a coach, but it is true that the context of the VAR has changed the perspective of the strategy, which at the end of the day is to plan situations in which they mix your strengths with the weaknesses of the opponent and repeat the movements until they are automatisms in the players. I believe a lot in automatisms, but also in the decisions of footballers to be able to harm the rival.
A while ago you admitted that during your time at Sevilla you thought of putting a barrier on Messi’s free-kicks, although in the end you did not. Why?
Real have done this season against Barça … It is true that I thought of throwing the barrier back, almost on the goal line, to make him hesitate when he launched the foul, but in the end I decided not to do it because it did not seem necessary, but It still seems like a good idea to me.
You’ve trained in Spain, France, England and Russia. In which league are you more respected and your work more supported?
The methodology and competitiveness of the Spanish coach is increasingly exported because it is a sign of success, the recognition that is had outside the Spanish coach is very important. Then there is how you enter their soccer culture and how they accept you. I have to say that I have felt recognized in Russia, France and England, after the circumstances determine if you are successful or not: in the Spartak in Moscow it went wrong; in PSG, the first year was regular and the second good; and at Arsenal, the first was good and the second bad.
And what has disappointed you about each of the four leagues you have trained in?
Well, each one has its particularities. In Russia the experience did not go well, but I learned a lot. In France I was in a club that marks a superiority over the rest, in fact, we got seven out of 10 domestic titles, but it’s not an easy league at all. In England the most complete league is for me, because the atmosphere is magnificent and practically all the clubs can have access to good players. It sells its best product abroad better than the Spanish one, although we have two ocean liners such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, which do not have them, and which produces a drag effect from the rest of the Spanish teams. Valencia, Seville, Betis, Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Athletic … they also export a lot.
“I will train where they want me and they show it to me and the project is attractive, to be able to be in Champions or Europa League, but I do not close to anything”
What has changed from Emery del Lorca to now?
The experience accumulated since I debuted there in 2004. In all the clubs I have been I have lived key moments: in Lorca, promotion to Second and then permanence; in Almería we were promoted to First where we achieved the best classification in its history; four years in Valencia, where except for the first, the others were successful; in Seville, what to say, with three Europa League in a row … This coupled with my experiences abroad, with a balance of 50%, I can say that I have enjoyed success more than failure, I have grown as a coach a lot, playing European competitions 14 of the 16 non-stop seasons I have been. And now what I’m trying to do is keep reinventing myself.
A curiosity. What is the first day of arriving at the PSG locker room and having Neymar, Mbappé and Cavani in front of you looks like?
In each of the clubs I have had to manage changing rooms with important players, not only PSG, it is true that in Paris I have had those three monsters, but in Seville I had Negredo, Rakitic. Kondogbia, Bacca, Palop, Gameiro, Reyes … It all comes down to knowing how to adapt and establish a good personal relationship and from this to a good professional management of the wardrobe where there is mutual respect.
Where are we going to see you coach next season?
At the moment, I am watching a lot of football, and the confinement situation invites it. More Spanish, I have to say, but I am not closed to anything, I will be where they want me and they show it to me, where the project is attractive, to be able to be in Champions or Europa League, but I do not close to anything.